This review is almost guaranteed to polarize, so I’m just going to come right out and say it – I went to the Guided By Voices show at The Showbox June 8th to see opener Bobby Bare, Jr. And from where I was standing, Bare, Jr. upstaged the veteran lo-fi rockers with a set roughly one quarter as long. I would prefer to see Bobby Bare, Jr. as a headliner any day.
But I have enjoyed many a Bobby Bare, Jr. album, and have seen him in several great concerts. I mostly missed the boat on Guided By Voices. I am confident that for GBV devotees, theirs was an excellent show. I won’t deny that the crowd was excited and engaged through their set. I, however, wasn’t really feeling it, and left before it was over.
Now, to be fair, it was a bit of an odd pairing on the bill. Guided By Voices is a pretty straight up rocking garage band, veterans on the scene. Bobby Bare, Jr. certainly can rock with the best of them, but he has plenty of sad songs and slower ballads under his belt as well as a decent dose of twang inherited from his upbringing among Nashville’s country music royalty. He is also no upstart, with seven albums under his belt. It was a bit disappointing for this fan to have to settle for a short opening set as the Showbox slowly filled in, only half paying attention.
But clearly, this was a crowd that mostly came to see Guided By Voices. And of course, that makes sense. After all, they were the headliners. Even so, I’m glad I caught every note of Bobby Bare, Jr.’s set. He was fun and funny and seemed at ease. New tracks off his latest, Undefeated, sounded more dynamic in the live setting, with big builds to satisfying solos.
His touring band is a tight four piece (including Bare, Jr. on guitar and vocals), sharing duties on keys, bass, sax, drums, and more. Bare seemed relaxed and humorous as he launched into sardonic songs like “The Big Time”, poking fun at the idea of making it big. His curly hair flew as he built himself up into belting out bigger lines, and his sock footed feet gave him a certain casual air.
One thing I really appreciated was that Bare seemed to genuinely enjoy his tour mates. Instead of retreating to the green room and hiding out there after his set, I saw him head banging and cheering through much of Guided By Voices.
As for GBV, the room filled in well and was enthusiastic (a security guard guessed it was about half full). They played dozens of songs spanning their long career, and worked the crowd well with kicks, mic spins, and other fun flourishes. Also, there is something retro and entertaining about a band who still smokes and drinks onstage with abandon. To my untrained ears, though, too many of the songs sounded largely the same. But again, I am no GBV expert.
Thankfully, my wishes have been granted. Bobby Bare, Jr has announced a headlining show at The Tractor Tavern on August 16th.
Instead of the rocking full band, this will be a stripped down acoustic show. It is a very different sound, but a great chance to see his funny-sad-poignant songs in a more raw and vulnerable context. It was recently announced that the show will be non-acoustic/full band. You can purchase tickets here. Bobby will also be performing a free in-store acoustic set at Easy Street Records on August 19th at 7 PM. I highly recommend you check one of these shows out.
Photos by George Bentley